How to Thicken Tempera Paint


Tempera paint, used in schools and art classes by artists of all ages, is nontoxic and easy to work with regardless of your paintbrush size. As a water-based paint, cleanup is quick with just soap and water. An ancient paint medium used by world-famous artists for hundreds of years, tempera used to be mixed with egg yolks and called egg tempera. But nowadays, its more often used by mixing with water.

You can use tempera paints in cake, liquid and powdered form. Cakes are easy to use and prevent waste since you simply wet the brick enough to make as much color as you need -- similar to using watercolor paints. But when you're using powder, if you mix the paint too thin it can damage the paper or not have enough color to it. Liquid paint comes already premixed, but when the tempera paint isn't thick enough regardless of the type of paint used, you have several ways in which to thicken it.

Thicken With Tempera Powder

To thicken liquid tempera paint or to thicken powered tempera you mixed yourself, add more pigment power to your paint. Mix in the powder in small increments using a palette knife to thoroughly mix the powder into the liquid paint. A palette knife helps to smooth out the powder as you fold it into the paint.

Cornstarch Thickener

You can make tempera paint thicker and creamier by using cornstarch.

Things You'll Need

  • Wooden spoon
  • Saucepan
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • Powdered or liquid tempera paint

Step 1

Stir together a 1/2 cup of cold water and 1/2 cup cornstarch in a saucepan.

Step 2

Add 4 cups of boiling water to the mixture and stir it while heating it to boiling over low to medium heat. Boil it for one minute, then let it cool.

Step 3

Add 1 teaspoon tempera powder or 1 tablespoon liquid tempera to each 1/2 cup cornstarch mixture per color as needed.

Starch and Wallpaper Paste

Mix starch and wallpaper paste with tempera to achieve the impasto look -- thick paste-like paint -- that Van Gogh favored in his paintings. Apply thickened tempera paint with a palette knife, but don't smooth it out -- let the strokes show.

Things You'll Need

  • Wooden spoon
  • Mixing bowl
  • 1/4 cup powdered tempera paint
  • 1 teaspoon wallpaper paste
  • Liquid starch

Step 1

Combine 1/4 cup powdered tempera with 1 teaspoon wallpaper paste.

Step 2

Add small amounts of liquid starch until the paint achieves the consistency of creamy cake frosting.

Step 3

Store the paint in a covered container This paint will keep for a few days if you keep it covered when not in use.

Flour and Salt

Follow in Rembrandt's footsteps by using flour and salt to thicken tempera paint, but make certain to mix the flour in water thoroughly first.

Things You'll Need

  • Microwave-safe bowl or saucepan
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Tempera powder

Step 1

Combine 1 cup of flour and 2 cups of water in a microwave-safe bowl or saucepan if you plan to heat it on the stove.

Step 2

Heat the mixture for 3 to 4 minutes in the microwave, stopping it and stirring every 30 seconds. If you prefer, heat the mixture in a saucepan on the stove set at low to medium temperature, stirring regularly until the consistency thickens.

Step 3

Add a pinch of salt and enough powdered tempera paint to create the color densitydesired. This paint can be stored in the fridge in a covered container, and when cool you can apply it with a brush or use it as a finger paint.

Add Sand

Things You'll Need

  • Mixing bowl or dish
  • Sand
  • Liquid tempera paint

For a thick and more textured paint, add sand to liquid tempera. Pour a bit of liquid tempera into a separate dish or bowl, adding enough sand to make the mixture thick, but creamy. The sand will settle to the bottom, so make certain to stir the mixture each time you dip your paintbrush or palette knife into it.


  • Sand in tempera has a tendency destroy the brush; use inexpensive paintbrushes or a palette knife when mixing tempera with sand.

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